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Not only has Sheila O’Donnell (of O’Donnell + Tuomey) been elected as one of 5 new Foreign Honorary Members of the American Academy of Arts and Letters but also she has been named Architect of the Year at the Women in Architecture (WIA) awards.
American Academy of Arts and Letters
O’ Donnell is the first Irish architect to be elected as a foreign member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Previous Irish honorary members have been writers, John Banville, Edna O’Brien and Colm Tóibín. Other elected honorary members this year include the British novelist Rachel Cusk and the Brazilian photographer Sebastiao Salgado.
The American Academy of Arts and Letters was founded in 1898 as an honor society of the country’s leading architects, artists, composers, and writers. Early members include William Merritt Chase, Childe Hassam, Julia Ward Howe, Henry James, Edward MacDowell, Theodore Roosevelt, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, John Singer Sargent, Mark Twain, and Edith Wharton. There are currently 75 Foreign Honorary Members including eleven other architects from around the world.
WIA Architect of the Year 2019
Winning the Women in Architecture award for her practice’s revamp of the Central European University in Budapest O’ Donnell faced stiff competition from OMA partner Ellen van Loon for the Qatar National Library in Doha, Eva Prats of Flores & Prats for Casal Balaguer Cultural Centre in Palma de Mallorca, and Carme Pigem of 2017 Pritzker Prize-winning practice RCR Arquitectes for De Krook Library in Ghent.
The Women in Architecture Awards jury, are quoted as saying ‘O’Donnell’s passion for the buildings of the Central European University was rewarded with an exceptionally high-quality building which she evidently fought hard for. ‘She is a role model for young women in architecture. Sheila O’Donnell did not have to break the glass ceiling – her and John Tuomey created a new reality.’
On accepting the award Sheila O’ Donnell reportedly said ‘It’s a great honour. We still need the WIA prize. It’s about celebration. There’s something very special about having a group of just women talking about architecture. It shines a spotlight on the problems we still have. Until we have equal pay and the other problems are sorted out we do still need the WIA awards.’